Ushering in Motherhood at a Spanish Daycare

Cállate. /ˈka.ʎa.te/ v (command form). Language: Spanish. Meaning: SHUT UP. Not the nicest of phrases, but it sort of just slips out after fruitlessly comforting a screaming baby for an hour.

Spanish daycare

I survived my first week at a Spanish daycare! Image source.

I paid close attention in middle school sex education. I take my birth control promptly at 9:00 each night. And why use just one condom when you could use three?

So it was a bit of a shock this week to find myself the stand-in mother of 20 screaming babies.

It may not be an unplanned pregnancy (or 20), but it is certainly a rude awakening. Life for an American in Europe is not a cakewalk, and to live legally in an amazing city like Barcelona, you have to find a job that dishes out the visa. Mine happens to come wrapped in bows and ribbons and soggy diapers.

I’m working 20 hours a week at a bilingual English — Spanish daycare, contracted by the multilingual education program Meddeas. Although I could have renewed my job and visa in Bilbao through the North American Language and Culture Assistant government program (check out my Q+A for that), I chose to switch to the private program of Meddeas. I was seeking a way to work specifically in Barcelona, and the government program doesn’t offer placements in the region of Catalonia.

My English “teaching” job at the Spanish daycare gives me legal papers; a small but livable salary; and the occasional outbreak of pink eye. I, in turn, provide native pronunciation when asking, “What color is this ball?” and a steady shoulder to cry or drool on. (English teacher’s pro tip: I’m allowed to end that sentence with a preposition.)

The first week, I’ve been getting to know my children. They range from 5 months to 2 years old. Some don’t speak a single word in any language; some babble off the occasional word in what is either baby nonsense or Catalan (the jury’s still out); some can say their own names and the names of their classmates.

What they can’t do, of course, is speak English. 

So that’s where I come in. With exciting games like Simon Says, live concerts of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” and harsh commands like “Marius, take Paul’s pacifier out of your mouth RIGHT NOW!” I will magically transfer a new language into the minds and mouths of these little guys.

Of course, it seems ridiculous. And part of it is. You can’t “teach” babies English—they hardly even know Spanish or Catalan yet! How will I explain verb endings or proper nouns to humans who’ve been around for less time than the iPhone 5S? Not to mention their attention span expires after five minutes.

I am basically a glorified babysitter. 

And while I can’t argue with all the above, and my initial reaction to getting hired at a Spanish daycare was a mix of dread and horror, I’ve actually come to see the value in my work. I certainly don’t want to teach English forever, let alone to babies, but I do believe I’ll see more results this year at a daycare than I did last year working with teenagers.

That’s because ages 0–3 is the best time for learning languages. Babies’ minds are sponges, so you don’t have to explain command forms or verb order—they just get it. It’s astonishing (and heart-meltingly cute) to see some of my babies humming along with me after hearing a new song just once. They are machines. Tiny pooping knowledge-retaining language-learning machines.

So what did we do this week? No grammar lessons or “Getting To Know You” Bingo. No Beyonce songs with fill-in-the-gap lyric sheets. That’s for the major leagues.

Instead, welcome-week activities at the Spanish daycare included:

Spanish daycare activities

Luckily my coworkers at the Spanish daycare are wonderful, and any time I falter—or get caught stealing a cracker or two for myself—they are always there to support me, show me the ropes, or at least refrain from calling Child Support Services the first week. We’ll see if their patience lasts.

It’s still too early to tell if this job will be incredibly rewarding or the beginning of the end of my sanity. Possibly a mix of the two. There are times when I want to join in on the crying, and other times where I want to squeeze those adorably chubby cheeks for hours on end. What I can glean so far, though, is the importance of practicing safe sex.

Because no one should wind up with 20 babies.


Don’t miss the milestones—you never know when little L. will walk or when P. will shit without crying. So get future posts delivered right to your inbox! And make sure to follow A Thing For Wor(l)ds on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

  • Pingback: The Cost of Living in Barcelona()

  • Pingback: I'm Leaving Spain, and Here's What Comes Next - A Thing For Wor(l)ds()

  • Pingback: The Hidden Perks of Caring for Monsters (er, Toddlers)()

  • Pingback: skype free download()

  • Pingback: javascript()

  • Pingback: mozilla firefox free download()

  • Pingback: google chrome free download for windows 7()

  • Pingback: Vanessa Smith()

  • Maddy Evancie

    Wow! I didn’t know they were so young! I enjoyed your description, I
    feel like I know these kids. Don’t worry, when you give birth usually
    one pops out, not 20.

  • Pingback: The Internet Offers Us Hilarious Linguistic Comedy()

  • Francesca

    Oh, Jenny…. you make me laugh so hard. Sorry about the pink eye and the boogers. But, hey, you’re living in Barcelona. It can’t be all bad!

  • Anne

    Hahaha….but aren’t they adorable!? :P

  • Haha, this reminds me of when I tried to teach English to a bunch of 3-5 year olds in Korea as part of ‘additional lessons’ back in 2010. It was an interesting experience to say the least. It consisted of learning colors (well coloring in the lines), songs (I feel bad that those children had to hear my awful singing voice) and getting them to stop staring everytime they saw me and focus on the ‘lesson’ at hand. Can’t wait to hear more about your adventures with the little people! :D

    • Haha I’ve definitely been self conscious about my singing voice!! Until I realize the number one beauty about babies—they don’t judge. So I belt out songs to my heart’s content :)

  • You will need a very big drink on Friday night!

    • It’s currently Friday, and instead of drinking with you I’m taking ibuprofen to control the latest fever these kids have passed on to me. Woe is me.

  • I have so ben there. After working at a high school, I found a legal job at a private school, but of course could only teach the babies. The first few weeks were beyond rough – it took me a long time to work them into a routine, and just when they finally got it, I was switched to firs grade the following school year. PRAISE, I practically skipped down the hallway!

    I now teach the preschoolers at an academy – so much easier when there are only eight, and it’s only an hour!

    • Hopefully the first weeks will be the toughest, and then I too will find my routine. I actually think I would have a harder time with first grade—I like the fact that babies can’t talk, only stare blankly (and cry).

  • lindsaypunk

    HAHAHA oh my lord! #literalLOLz for days! As if I needed further reason not to have kids, EVER.

    But really, this is a win-win for you: if you want to have your own kids someday, well now you’ll have plenty of practice. And if you don’t, then at least you can say you’ve had a close enough experience to motherhood without actually having to endure it full time. :D

  • Ryan Zieman

    Jenny, our jobs are pretty much at the two ends of the “teaching” English in Spain spectrum (if such a thing exists). From your pooping toddlers to my stressed business execs, everyone else is somewhere in between. This was such a funny post! I especially love the check list. Keep up your awesomeness.

    • Thanks Ryan! I’m curious, do you enjoy teaching business execs? I think I would love teaching adults, but they certainly expect much more from classes than a drooling baby does.

      • Ryan Zieman

        Yes, Jenny! I really do enjoy teaching adults. I especially enjoy the one-on-one’s with VIPs. I really feel like I’m helping them to be better at their jobs. Sometimes I’m helping a student prepare for a meeting or reviewing a presentation that they have to give in English. I love how I can rely on my business degree as well. I really lucked out when I found this job.

  • Babies: “Tiny pooping knowledge-retaining language-learning machines.” Hahahahaha I loved this post :D

    I teach English to the preschool aged kids at my elementary school (ages 3-5) but I don’t think I could handle toddlers through 2-year-olds…the 3-year-olds are a handful as it is! They sure are fun to teach though, but like you, they’ve understated the importance of always. using. protection!

    • Hahaha thanks Trevor! Surprisingly, I think I would have a harder time with 3-5 year olds, since they can talk and have more of a mind of their own, and are often more rebellious and loud. Basically, they’re harder to keep the attention of. I have a few 4 and 5 year olds in my hour of English classes in the afternoons (which I didn’t mention in this post, but it’s part of my schedule as well—the place sort of converts into an English academy) and I find that hour INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT.

  • …Hey, look at the Duggar family–there’s about 20 kids there, and they SEEM to be somewhat functional, if not unorthodox!!…

    • I’ve actually never heard of that family, but just looked them up…..19 BIOLOGICAL children?!? When there are so many babies in need of good homes….. :'(

  • Cassandra

    DIOS. I’ve often heard English teachers and assistants say they don’t envy me for working with teens, but give me moodiness over dirty diapers any day.

    I’m curious to hear how your final thoughts at the end of the school year will compare with these initial reactions. I loved your checklist, by the way!

    • Ya, last year I found the teenagers were harder to entertain, but I actually really liked working with the 15 and 16-yr-olds. It can be a fun age, despite what people say!
      However, this year I don’t think I could mentally handle teaching English again. Like preparing lessons, teaching pronunciation, etc…..I think the root of the problem is I’m just not that into teaching anyone a language (well, maybe I would like adults or university level teaching, but still).